Tag Archives: Technology

FDA

FDA Launches Office of Digital Transformation

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

Taking a step further in prioritizing technology and data modernization efforts, today the FDA announced the launch of a new Office of Digital Transformation. The office realigns the agency’s information technology, data management and cybersecurity roles into a central office that reports directly to the FDA commissioner. The reorganization will also help FDA further streamline its data and IT management processes, reducing duplication of processes, and promote best practices, technological efficiencies and shared services in a strategic and secure way.

“Good data management, built into all of our work, ultimately helps us meet and advance the FDA’s mission to ensure safe and effective products for American families,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D., in an FDA news release. “The agency began these efforts because, as a science-based agency that manages massive amounts of data to generate important decisions and information for the public, innovation is at the heart of what we do. By prioritizing data and information stewardship throughout all of our operations, the American public is better assured of the safety of the nation’s food, drugs, medical devices and other products that the FDA regulates in this complex world. This reorganization strengthens our commitment to protecting and promoting public health by improving our regulatory processes with a solid data foundation built in at every level.”

 

FDA

FDA Announces 12 Winners of Traceability Challenge

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

Back in May, FDA launched a technology traceability challenge with the goal of promoting innovation in the development of scalable and affordable traceability technology tools for food operations of all sizes. Today, the agency announced the winning teams and their technologies:

  • FarmTabs. Free, downloadable software run on Microsoft Excel to aid small and mid-size farmers manage records for traceability/ farm-related metrics.
  • Freshly. Traceability and batch-tracking software for small businesses (including retailers, manufacturers and distributors).
  • HeavyConnect. Cloud-based digital traceability and compliance documentation solutions, including a mobile app for producers to capture data in the field and share it across the supply chain.
  • ItemChain. Item-level traceability to each party in the supply chain.
  • Kezzler. Solution uses self-service portals to generate item-level identifiers and associate homogenized datasets at the grower level through mobile applications.
  • Mojix. Uses industry standards to link traceability events for each item or lot throughout the supply chain in an open data network.
  • OpsSmart. Cloud-based traceability software solution for food safety, recall management, and traceability in a complex supply chain.
  • Precise’s. Traceability Suite that provides end-to-end supply chain tracking to all segments of the food market, using geospatial, machine learning and IoT technologies.
  • Roambee/GSM/Wiliot’s. Solution uses low-cost IoT sensor tags in with shipment visibility and verification technologies for end-to-end traceability.
  • Rfider. Software-as-a-service that captures, secures and shares critical event data along supply chains to consumers.
  • TagOne. A role-based data capture framework that updates an open source blockchain platform, and uses industry standards to ensure interoperability, and ease of use and data security.
  • Wholechain. Supply chain traceability system that uses blockchain technology to trace products back to the original source.

The videos submitted by each winning company are available on FDA’s webpage that announces the winners.

Scott Deakins, Deacom
FST Soapbox

Billions of Dollars Lost to Food Waste, Tech Exists to Reduce It

By Scott Deakins
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Scott Deakins, Deacom

Food waste is a massive global problem led by the United States. According to the USDA, an estimated 30–40% of the country’s food supply ends up in landfills—most of it at the retail and consumer levels. This amounted to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food wasted in 2010 alone, which prompted the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency to launch the U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions initiative in 2016. Businesses and other organizations can join the ranks as champions by committing to a 50% reduction of food loss and waste by 2030.

That’s a noble goal, but those businesses will only be able to achieve their objective with technologies that reduce food waste in production and the supply chain. Food lost in this medium is hardly insignificant. At least 10%—or billions of pounds of food—is wasted in acts as small as over-ordering or in transport. This is, in short, the result of errors in resource planning.

After an extremely difficult year, food process manufacturers can no longer afford to generate that level of waste. Fortunately, technologies already exist to help the industry regain control of its production, storage and forecasting, and can facilitate leaner businesses and less waste.

Eliminate Human Error and System Inconsistencies

There have been a lot of changes in the way food is grown, harvested, delivered and sold over the last few decades, yet little progress has been made when it comes to unnecessary waste. The Commission for Environmental Cooperation reports that food loss and waste can occur post-harvest due to inaccurate supply and demand forecasting, grade standards for size and quality, and deficiencies in refrigeration. Even the packaging can cause problems if it is inefficient or ineffective.

These and other problems lead to waste—some up front before the product is ever sold to consumers, others down the line after an item has been purchased, leading to a recall. If inventory records are anything less than 100% accurate from formulation through shipment, additional challenges will follow. Though it is not heavily considered in an FDA audit, manufacturers still need the ability to instantaneously report on any aspect of their inventory history, regardless of the ERP software from which data is pulled. ERP systems with bolt-on modules often fail in this regard. If functionalities of the sub-systems are not designed for strict lot tracking, or if those sub-systems are not designed exactly the same, errors are inevitable.

Workarounds can be implemented, but they cannot account for processes that still need to be performed manually, which increases the likelihood that lot tracking accuracy will fall short. Inefficiencies are further exacerbated by sub-systems that handle actions differently, but the challenges don’t end there.

Problems can also develop when data has to be shared across more than one module, database or even system, which may inspire the use of outside solutions, such as an Excel spreadsheet, compounding the issues at hand. Makeshift solutions increase the risk that an incorrect lot number will be entered or that someone will forget to delete a number after a lot was de-issued and re-issued. Any of these cracks in the operational foundation will inevitably deduct from the 100% inventory accuracy that’s necessary for a smooth recall process—anything less will lead to a greater impact on the business.

The only real solution is to eliminate the potential for human error and system inconsistencies altogether—and that can only be accomplished with a configurable ERP solution that handles all business processes from one system and one database and can easily adapt to changing regulation and recipes. Without it, true strict lot control—meaning 100% inventory accuracy with perfect record keeping and the ability to instantly report on any aspect of the inventory history—cannot be achieved.

Reduce Inventory Variance and Grow without Unnecessary Expansions

There are aspects of food waste that can be controlled, including inventory variance, which occurs when items are lost, misplaced or miscounted. This is particularly problematic for packaging and ingredients, causing issues at the production level—finished products cannot be made if there aren’t enough items to complete the process, which is also bad for the bottom line. Inventory variance may occur if deliveries are not verified to confirm that ordered ingredients were actually received or may happen if items are entered incorrectly or simply misidentified.

Variance is more than a nuisance—it can be quite costly. For example, Silver Spring Foods encountered this firsthand when it discovered that its inventory variance commonly reached between $250,000 and $300,000. The company, which debuted in 1929 when founder Ellis Huntsinger started growing horseradish and other vegetable crops, now produces the number-one horseradish retail brand in the United States. With more than 9,000 acres of prime Wisconsin and Minnesota farmland, Silver Spring realized that it had outgrown its outdated ERP solution.

The company initially thought that it had reached capacity and could only grow further by physically expanding its building with an additional manufacturing line that would require new hires to come aboard. In reality, the company needed an ERP solution that could keep up with its impressive level of growth.

More specifically, Silver Spring Foods wanted an ERP system that could tie together several elements, including customer service, accounting, manufacturing, purchasing and shipping within a single tool. The company needed a solution that offered strong data mining and reporting functionality, as well as strong sales reporting, sustainable tech support capabilities and would not exceed ERP budget allocations. It was equally important to have an ERP solution that was configurable without customization, prioritizing speed and efficiency while offering predictable quality and cost of ongoing IT support and maintenance.

After upgrading to a solution that met all of its requirements, Silver Spring Foods was able to gather all data in one system that brought together multiple software integrations, including CRM. This allowed the firm to fine-tune its material purchases to match current production needs, sales forecasts and production schedules. More importantly, inventory variance was reduced to $90,000 during the first year and now falls within a range of just $1,800 to $2,500. By improving inventory management, unearthing new efficiencies and proving that Silver Spring had not yet reached capacity, the company was now able to grow without adding additional square footage.

Don’t Let Waste Cut into Productivity

Food growers, processors and supply chains cannot afford to let waste cut into their productivity or their bottom line. They need to be able to keep track of everything, achieving true strict lot control to limit the damage caused by a recall. They also need to be able to improve food management and reduce inventory variance. These and other advantages can only be attained with the right ERP technology, however, so businesses must choose wisely before making an investment.

Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine
FST Soapbox

As Demand for Frozen Food Surges, Cold Storage Facilities Must Continue to Prioritize Safety

By Emily Newton
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Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine

Frozen food demand has skyrocketed. Although COVID-19 was a catalyst, there are many reasons why the trend will likely continue going forward. The pandemic forced people to eat at home more, which was largely responsible for the hike in food sales, especially frozen goods. Higher availability and food quality enhancements have also contributed to the spike, prompting suppliers to upgrade and expand cold storage warehouse solutions—whether that means creating extra space or utilizing existing space more effectively.

One of the more important changes, prioritized across the industry, is food preservation and safety. It has always been crucial that frozen food reaches its destination clean, healthy and still frozen — just as it went in. However, preliminary data from the CDC’s Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network reveals that foodborne illnesses are up 15%. The primary or most common form is Salmonella, but COVID-19 has consumers and food safety professionals thinking more closely about cleanliness and proper sanitation.

It has pushed a tight focus on safety overall, with new innovations looking to enhance sector controls.

Necessity Breeds Creativity

Recent events have played a role in the industry’s continued focus on safety, but so have consumer demands, as more and more people look to frozen meals, foods and items as part of their normal routines.

People love convenience. But as the pandemic hit, and people were forced to isolate and remain home more, and restaurants and stores closed as a safety precaution. What was once about convenience became even more about safety. People still wanted freedom and ease of use, but it wasn’t a necessity nor was it a priority. Safety became even more important, which is why curbside pickup, deliveries and online transactions became so popular.

What does this have to do with frozen foods? Everything. Because of the pandemic, we’ve all had to eat at home more often, which means preparing meals, snacks and other items, with minimal exposure to the outside world or even local grocery stores. Naturally, consumers turned to easily cooked and pre-prepared frozen foods and meals.

Safety is the Priority

It makes sense that more frozen foods being purchased and consumed would shift priorities in the market. In a 2021 report released by Acosta, 14% of respondents say they consume frozen food nearly all the time. About 46% say they consume frozen foods often.

During the pandemic, the share of U.S. core frozen food consumers rose to 39% in 2020, up from 35% in 2018. “Core” consumers are defined as those who either eat frozen food daily or every few days.

What’s more, 42% of households that buy frozen foods did so online, up from 23% in 2018. And online frozen food sales jumped 75% last year, with the top purchases including frozen dinners and entrees, meat, poultry and even seafood.

Instead of restricting eating habits, consumers have turned to frozen foods to spruce up their meals, create new at-home dishes, and so on. It has boosted the demand for all kinds of frozen foods. It also necessitates the need for improved quality and safety. Implementing and maintaining strict controls as to how the food is transported, handled and preserved, can prevent contamination on all fronts.

With that rise in dependence, on frozen foods specifically, it is imperative that supply chain operators are delivering goods in a safe, healthy condition. Allowing foods to thaw during the transport process can introduce more problems than just contamination, especially with COVID remaining a major influence.

Imagine how bad it would be if the world experienced a major foodborne outbreak, right now. Most scenarios can be prevented through smarter food handling and better, data-driven controls.

New methods are being implemented to chill and prepare foods earlier on in the supply process. Many cold chain providers are adopting low-temperature chillers, like a food processing chiller, for example. They can freeze prepared foods quickly to ensure they are safe, disinfected and stored appropriately. From there, it’s just a matter of keeping them cold-locked during transport, storage, delivery, and beyond. That’s precisely where some of the latest innovations come into the picture.

Cold Storage Warehouse Innovations

To keep up with the demand and ensure frozen foods and other goods stay fresh in the cold chain, the industry is seeing rampant innovation, thanks to modern technologies. Think IoT-equipped fleets and storage systems to facilitate faster time to market and better transparency. Or, machine learning and AI-driven tools that help discern bottlenecks, locate faster and more effective solutions, and so on.

At the heart of it all is data, or rather digital content and information. The smarter and more contextually driven operations are, the better efficiency is all around. The following are some of the technologies making this happen:

  • IioT. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) involves connected devices that continually collect, transmit and sometimes process performance and contextual data. In the cold chain, it can be used to track goods, prevent theft or fraud, monitor processes, discover bottlenecks and more.
  • Machine Learning. An offset of artificial intelligence, machine learning and neural networks can be used to ingest and analyze massive swarms of data in ways, and at speeds, that humans never could. What’s more, the technology can empower highly advanced automation systems to take action, respond, or act based on algorithmic rulesets.
  • Electric and autonomous vehicles. Revolutionizing logistics and conventional transport, electric and fully autonomous vehicles will significantly improve fleets with better safety, stop-free trips and more.
  • Smart shelving. Imagine Amazon’s Kivo bots, or something similar, implemented within cold storage warehouses. The entire system is designed to improve inventory management, order picking, and general logistics.
  • Co-bots. Beyond delivery, ground-based drones or advanced robots can be used to transport and move heavy goods, large or bulk orders, and organize the warehouse. When outfitted with the appropriate hardware, they can reach high shelves and storage areas or move through hazardous locations, improving safety for manual workers.

Innovation Brings New Challenges

Of course, there are the general challenges facing the cold storage industry, such as how to keep foods fresh throughout the journey, proper packaging solutions, and maintaining more sanitary conditions, but there are new challenges presented by the adopted technologies.

For example, IIoT devices aren’t typically designed to be exposed to extremely frigid temperatures, which may sometimes affect the measurements and data collected. A malfunctioning device can lead to serious problems, especially when it’s the sole method for maintaining temperatures and ensuring food is properly stored.

Bringing these devices up to a sufficiently resistant level is a challenge, as is keeping them running optimally. Failing to do so could increase food contamination, the spread of foodborne illness, or worse.

Another challenge involves the expansion or development of new cold storage facilities. As warehouses and locations grow to accommodate larger inventories, the cold storage systems must become more sophisticated and powerful. What’s more, even the slightest temperature drop because of a system failure can have sweeping repercussions in such a large facility. A single refrigeration unit going down can drop temperatures across the entire warehouse.

Designing smarter spaces to keep the cold temperatures contained is one solution. Installing the supporting systems is another, which keeps things operational even when a negative scenario plays out. Automation and smart, data-driven technologies can be incredibly helpful in this area.

Finally, the bigger the cold storage solution, the higher the power draw and the more resources needed to keep things running. In turn, it’s necessary to install and implement smart technologies to reduce the carbon footprint. Cutting energy usage wherever possible becomes vital to sustainability. It can call for solutions like smart or timed lighting, smart thermostats for the refrigeration units, or upgraded systems that reduce emissions — think electric fleets and renewable energy platforms.

Backup solutions are even a part of the mix, when power outages can bring an entire operation down in seconds, and expose food to long-term risk.

Frozen Food Demand: A Steady Climb

Things may change, and there are never any guarantees, but right now it looks as though high demand for frozen food will continue, and may even grow steadily. Market conditions are partly responsible, but consumers are now more focused on quality and healthy foods, above eating out or ordering in. As the economy continues to open, people will want to get back out there and explore. But that doesn’t necessarily mean frozen food demand will decline.

Cold chain and cold storage warehouse providers must be prepared for the continued growth, which includes finding new and innovative ways to preserve, package and safely store frozen foods.

Derek Stangle, Squadle
Retail Food Safety Forum

How the Pandemic Raised the Stakes for Food Safety

By Derek Stangle
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Derek Stangle, Squadle

Food safety concerns are constant across the food industry. From grocery stores to restaurants to meatpacking plants, the industry has doubled down on creating greater transparency into how food is stored, handled, cooked and delivered to the end customer. At the same time, new technology is helping food executives execute everything from contactless transactions to track, record, and promote their safety policies as never before.

Both independent restaurants and large chains see food safety as an issue that grew in importance during the pandemic. Diners have come to rely on restaurant policies for staff hygiene, such as washing hands, wearing gloves, and tracking personnel temperatures at the beginning of every shift. Their patrons expect that each restaurant will demonstrate how they are adhering to safety protocols. Restaurants are publishing their policies via signage, flyers added to take-out orders, social media posts, updated website language, or even safety protocols published to Yelp.

What’s more, their customers can easily access guidelines published by the CDC such as “Avoid Food Poisoning: Tips for Eating at Restaurants”, which explain how to check a restaurant’s safety score at the local health department website or find information, such as certificates that show kitchen managers have completed food safety training and posted it in the physical restaurant.

For restaurants, a transparent safety policy can become a competitive advantage, used to win new customers and attract the very best job candidates.

Grocery stores face similar challenges. From the checkout line to deli employees and the inventory clerks stocking the shelves, grocery employees are essential workers who also experience an unusually high level of public contact. According to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), which represents 1.3 million workers in food and retail, since the pandemic began, there have been more than 100,000 frontline and grocery union workers infected or exposed to COVID-19.

The UFCW has called for better safety precautions for grocery workers, including free PPE, paid sick leave, and vaccination prioritization that reflects their role as essential workers. As the national vaccination program picks up steam, more states are recognizing the need to vaccinate these essential workers, and they’ve been moved up in the prioritization line.

Until vaccines become more prevalent, however, grocery stores have adopted measures, much like those in restaurants, that are designed to protect both workers and shoppers. Mask mandates, one-way aisles, six-foot distancing, and Plexiglas shields at checkout are now commonplace.

Expanding Takeout and Delivery

Both restaurants and grocery stores have seen a huge shift to delivery ordering or curbside takeout over the course of the pandemic. Customers expect their favorite brands to give them the option of a frictionless, contactless experience where they have minimal contact with employees.

In order to offer a contactless takeout experience, both grocery stores and restaurants have invested heavily in technology. Curbside pickup and home delivery require an up-to-date website synched to inventory and menus. In addition, mobile apps enable guests to order remotely regardless of their location. The ability to pay via the app or a mobile wallet is the next step in a seamless contactless experience. Guests can pick up groceries or restaurant orders curbside, or pay a little more to have them delivered to their doorsteps.

The big advantage for shoppers is that they never come into contact with store employees, thus reducing the possibility of virus transmission. However, shoppers are finding that they also like the speed and convenience of the contactless experience. For this reason, many restaurants, such as McDonald’s and Chipotle, are expanding their drive-through capabilities.

Big brands like Amazon are doing the same with grocery. The Amazon Go concept store provides a “Just Walk Out Shopping” experience. There are no lines and no checkout. Customers download an Amazon Go app, and their items are automatically scanned and billed to their account. Other innovators include Wegman’s, which has partnered with Instacart to facilitate free delivery for its online shoppers, and brands like Safeway and Albertson’s, which also have curbside pickup facilitated via their mobile apps.

Back-of-House Technology

Back-of-house technology completes the food safety paradigm for restaurants and grocery stores. New systems that combine wireless networks with temperature monitors and data analysis make it simple and compulsory to track food temperatures throughout a facility. Remote sensors automatically record temperatures in coolers, the kitchen, and as orders move on to the customer.

Workflow automation in the back-of-house has become equally indispensable as food compliance has become increasingly more complex. Whether it’s a multi-unit restaurant or grocery brand, operators crave the data and visibility that only a digital solution can provide. Automation reduces the amount of time spent on tasks otherwise done manually, cuts down on the chance of errors, increases customer satisfaction and improves overall efficiency.

Technology helps the foodservice industry to stay on track, ensure compliance and encourages employees to stick with these practices. With a digital solution that keeps an electronic record of all the protocols that need to be completed, restaurants and groceries can record each inspection, such as taking photos of clean equipment and walk-in coolers at proper temperatures, as well as reminding them of their most important tasks and cleaning schedules.

Dollar

Developments in PCR Technology Boost Food Pathogen Testing Market Outlook

By Vinisha Joshi
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Dollar

In recent years, foodborne illness has ignited alarming concerns across the globe. Food products can become contaminated with pathogenic bacteria through exposure to inadequate processing controls, animal manure, improper storage or cooking, and cross contamination. The following is a look at some of the pivotal figures that illustrate the effects of food contamination:

  • • According to WHO, an estimated of 600 million people globally fall ill after consuming contaminated food, of which 420,000 succumb to death every year.
  • Children under 5 years of age carry 40% of the foodborne disease burden, with 125,000 fatalities recorded annually.
  • Regionally, CDC reports suggest that foodborne pathogens cause nearly 9.6 million illnesses, 57,500 hospital admissions, and 1,500 deaths yearly in the United States alone.
  • Considering the financial aspects, it is essential to note that about $110 billion is lost almost every year in productivity and medical expenses from unsafe food consumption in low-and middle-income economies.

With such daunting numbers taking over the globe, there stands an innate requirement of cost-effective, easy-to-use, and accurate testing methods that ensure the consumer is delivered nothing but the safest food.

It has been estimated that global food pathogen testing market size could potentially surge to $5.5 billion by 2024.

Why is pathogen testing necessary? Pathogen testing is generally carried out to decrease and remove foodborne illnesses. It is a technique implemented in the very nascent stage of food production to ensure proper sanitation and food safety. The testing can be done using conventional technologies or the cutting-edge methods, including Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) or an immunoassay test.

PCR technology: An ideal and convenient technology in use for pathogen detection in food industry

PCR is one of the most frequently used technologies. The test enables the detection of a single bacterial pathogen, including E. Coli, Salmonella and Listeria, present in food by detecting a specific target DNA sequence. Aiding to such advantages, various business conglomerates that are involved in the food pathogen testing industry are taking strategic measures to bring forth novel innovations and practices in the space. The following is a brief snapshot of some developments in the PCR based pathogen testing technology landscape:

  • Sanigen, Ilumina partnership for development of NGS panel
    Owing to the escalating demand for PCR testing technology for detecting the presence of food pathogens, South Korea-based Sanigen, recently announced standing as a channel partner in the region for Illumina. Both the companies, in unison, are expected to work towards the development of NGS panels that can robustly detect 16 types of foodborne pathogen from around 400 samples.
  • Thermo Scientific’s 2020 launch of SureTest PCR Assays
    Last year Thermo Scientific expanded its portfolio of foodborne pathogen detection with the launch of the SureTest PCR Assays. The testing technology is poised to offer various food producers an access to a more holistic range of tests for every step of the analysis process.

A look at one sector: How is the expanding dairy sector complementing the growth structure of food pathogen testing market?

The dairy production industry is rapidly expanding in various developing and developed economies, marking a significant contribution to health, environment, nutrition and livelihoods. According to a National Farmers Union report, the U.S. dairy industry accounts for 1% of the GDP, generating an economic impact of $628 billion, as of 2019. However, dairy products, although deemed healthy, can contribute to severe human diseases in umpteen ways, with dairy-borne diseases likely to top the list.

Milk and products extracted from the milk of dairy cows can house a variety of microorganisms, emerging as a source of foodborne pathogens. This has pushed the need for appropriate testing methods and technologies, which can eliminate the presence of dairy-borne bacteria, like Salmonella.

Today, various rapid pathogen testing solutions that are suitable for detecting the presence of distinct bacteria and organisms are available for dairy-based food companies. For instance, PCR-based solutions are available to test for mastitis in dairy, which is a common rudder infection caused by microorganisms in dairy cattle, affecting the quality of milk. Apparently, Thermo Fisher offers VetMAX MastiType qPCR kits for relatively faster, efficient and easier mastitis diagnostics. In fact, the kits are deemed to be reliable tools that would accurately detect all mastitis causing bacteria in frozen, fresh and preserved milk samples.

Meat Products

Consumption of raw or undercooked meat is also expected to generate a significant food pathogen testing kits demand in the coming years. Common contaminants found in these products are E. coli and Salmonella. One of the strains of E. coli, Shiga Toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), is expected to emerge as a fatal contaminant present in the meat products. Consider the following:

  • WHO reports estimate that up to 10% of patients with STEC infection are vulnerable to developing haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), with a case-mortality rate ranging from 3 to 5%.
  • Moreover, it has the ability to cause neurological complication in 25% of HUS patients and chronic renal sequelae, in around 50% of survivors.

Under such circumstances, the demand for pathogen testing in meat products, for detecting E. coli and other contaminants is gradually expanding worldwide. In January this year, PerkinElmer introduced its new tool for detection of E. coli O157 in food products. The kit has been developed for generating rapid results while simultaneously putting them forth to support food safety efforts related to beef and its self-life.

The global food and beverage sector is subject to stringent safety requirements and a considerable part of the responsibility lies with food producers. As such, access to rapid testing technologies will enable the producers to fulfill their safety obligations without compromising on productivity and bottom lines. The consistent development of PCR-based tools will certainly outline the gradual progress of food pathogen testing industry, keeping in mind the high penetration of dairy and processed meat products worldwide.

Greg Staley, SynergySuite
Retail Food Safety Forum

Pathway to Progress: How to Invest in Food Safety Technology when Future Is Uncertain

By Greg Staley
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Greg Staley, SynergySuite

The last 18 months have been tremendously difficult for the restaurant industry. Six years of growth were undone by a global pandemic, and industry sales were $240 billion dollars lower than pre-COVID-19 projections, according to the National Restaurant Association.

While the pandemic accelerated the adoption of trends like online ordering, off-premise dining and delivery, it also brought others to a halt. Revenue loss from the pandemic meant many restaurants had to put other technology upgrades on hold.

Now, despite diners eagerly returning to dine in, other costs have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. Supply chain and labor disruptions, rent, and other operational costs are still making margins razor thin. This likely means the technology teams at many brands will be looking to do more with less for several years as the industry normalizes again. And oftentimes that means food safety will take a back seat.

Traditional ways of trimming budgets are no longer feasible, so operators looking to restore profitability will need to find new ways to boost operational efficiencies. These challenges do not mean you can’t make strategic investments, but they do mean you will have to be thoughtful about how and where you put those tech budgets.

Operators are facing a number of challenges while trying to regain their footing as COVID restrictions wind down. However, there are ways you can still invest in food safety technology, even while profits are recovering. Let’s look at what roadblocks are potentially introducing risk into your food safety program and how you can still create an effective food safety culture to protect employees and guests.

The Challenges

The following are just a few of the issues introducing risk into your food safety processes.

Challenge 1: Staffing shortages have employees spread thin.
Many people left the restaurant industry during the pandemic, exacerbating an already tight labor market. This has led to closing for some days or specific times, slower service, drive thru or take out only, and routine tasks falling behind.

While safe food handling should be routine, time crunches put pressure on even the best staff. Your employees may be fudging line checks, not throwing out food that reached unsafe temperatures, or forgetting specific tasks at the busiest times.

Challenge 2: Supply chain and transportation disruptions threaten safe food supplies.
Global supply chains are still fluctuating, and transportation has been disrupted as well. This means many restaurants are not getting the entire inventory they need when they need it. Trucks may take longer to transport food and high temperatures across North America could mean food is going out of temp when it normally wouldn’t. This is particularly troubling if employees aren’t checking deliveries, as you won’t know if food has been delivered outside safe temperatures.

Challenge 3: Dropping revenue leads to more manual processes and temp checks.
According to the National Restaurant Association’s annual report, 86% of restaurants say profitability is lower than it was prior to the pandemic. This is not an unexpected statistic in a year that saw unprecedented challenges to the industry, but it has had a number of domino effects.
One of those effects is restaurants that may previously have been using operational software to monitor and report on safe food practices returned to spreadsheets or clipboards to save on tech costs. Or those that had smart devices such as Bluetooth temperature probes or fridge and freezer monitors replaced them with non-smart devices if they broke or became out of date.

Challenge 4: Employee turnover threatens food safety culture and institutional knowledge.
It’s no secret that a food handler’s permit is not the end-all-be-all of food safety in a restaurant. The longer employees work in foodservice, the more experience they have with safe food handling practices, and they are able to pass this down to new employees to reinforce best practices.

However, the loss of many longtime foodservice employees leaving the industry has left huge gaps in institutional knowledge that affect everything from how smoothly a restaurant runs to how well employees follow safe food handling.

The Solutions

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for every restaurant. However, here are a few things operators can focus on to help bolster food safety practices and bring in modern food safety technology even while profitability is lower than it was prior to the pandemic.

Solution 1: Look for improvements in existing processes or technology.
You don’t have to immediately look to new technology. There is a lot to be gained from optimizing what you already have that’s working well. This can mean looking for new ways to take advantage of technology you already have in place or making small adjustments to processes that work well but could be tweaked to be more efficient.

For example, if you are using some sort of digital checklist tool, think about ways you can integrate a previously manual food safety process into it. You may not think it’s a big change, but even skipping the step of having to transcribe data from checklists or spreadsheets means you will get faster, more accurate reporting. Or you can use existing temperature probes and add the step of checking deliveries as they arrive to ensure they are within a safe temperature range.

Then talk to the customer success manager at any company you already use. There may be features you are paying for and don’t even realize you aren’t using. One example is that many inventory systems also carry food safety capabilities as a side offering, and their customers aren’t using it because they originally signed up for inventory help.

You can begin with seemingly small changes that will ultimately add up to a big reduction in risk as you snowball strategies and build safer processes.

Solution 2: Look for places where you can consolidate technology.
In today’s restaurant technology ecosystem, you can find virtually anything you want. If you’ve been building a piecemeal tech stack, it’s time to take another look at what’s out there. Many restaurants are paying for separate software for things like operations checklists, inventory, food safety, scheduling and training.

If you’re using separate systems because you feel like that’s giving you the best technology, then carry on. But if it’s just because that’s how you added them, and you never took a look at where you could consolidate multiple systems into one platform, then get acquainted with your options. Many back-of-house platforms can help you cover multiple areas of your operations more efficiently and you’ll be able to bundle pricing rather than paying for disparate systems.

Solution 3: Focus on systems that pay for themselves.
The idea that software is only a cost center has been around for a long time. Some systems may not tie back directly to revenue, but there are more places than you realize that cover their own subscription costs with the money saved.

First, look for any areas you can consolidate technology and piggyback food safety tools into that. If you are gaining a new restaurant management system, odds are you will find food safety technology as part of that package, and you can justify the overall upgrade on food and labor savings.

Second, food safety is so reliant on employee buy-in and consistency that technology that improves retention and training will also have a positive effect on your food safety risk reduction. Labor management and scheduling systems will bring down one of the two major costs of running a restaurant, with a secondary benefit of making food safety practices stronger.

The longer you retain employees, the better they are at teaching correct practices to others as well as adhering to brand food safety practices. Plus, training systems that come with labor tools allow you to provide micro learning moments that reinforce proper practices for even the most experienced employees.

Life during the pandemic has taken a toll on all areas of restaurant operations, including food safety. Now that guests are dining out more, you don’t want to take a chance that a foodborne illness will destroy business just as it is being rebuilt. Times are tight to pay for new technology, but there are things operators can do to make food safety programs stronger without breaking the bank.

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FDA’s Traceability Tech Challenges Goes Live

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Today FDA launched its latest initiative set forth as part of the New Era of Smarter Food Safety blueprint: The FDA New Era of Smarter Food Safety Low- or No-Cost Tech-Enabled Traceability Challenge. The agency is asking technology providers, entrepreneurs and innovators to come forward and develop traceability technology tools that are scalable and affordable for food operations of all sizes.

“Too many Americans suffer from foodborne illnesses every year. Making the food supply more digitally enabled and food more traceable will speed the response to outbreaks and deepen our understanding of what causes them and how to prevent them from happening again,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D. in an agency release “One of the FDA’s highest priorities is protecting consumers from foodborne illnesses. We hope to find new, innovative ways to encourage firms of all sizes to voluntarily adopt tracing technologies that can help our nation modernize the way we work together to determine possible sources of foodborne illnesses as quickly as possible to keep Americans safe.”

Additional information about the challenge, which ends on July 30, can be found on the precisionFDA website.

FDA

FDA Requests $6.5 Billion for FY 2022 Budget, 8% More than Last Year

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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The FDA is asking for $6.5 billion, about an 8% increase over the previous year, for its FY 2022 budget. The budget includes a $185 investment in the agency’s critical public health infrastructure, which addresses enterprise-wide data modernization and enhanced technology to ensure that labs and facilities are safe and integrated with program needs, and capacity building. FDA is asking for $97 million to increase the development of its food and medical product safety programs. Specific areas of investment within food safety include boosting funding given to programs that address maternal and infant nutrition ($18 million); providing funds that tackle emerging food-related chemical and toxicological issues ($19.7 million); and improving the oversight of animal foods and supporting the implementation of the New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint ($22 million). Accompanying FDA’s budget request are legislative proposals to enhance the agency’s authorities to protect and promote public health.

Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series

2021 FSC Episode 1 Preview: FDA on New Era, Experts Discuss Digital Transformation and Consumer Focus

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series

Thursday, May 6, marks the first episode of the 2021 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series. The following are highlights for this week’s session:

  • FSMA-Based & Technology-Enabled: FDA Advances into New Era of Smarter Food Safety, a special keynote with Frank Yiannas, FDA
  • Digital Transformation in Food Safety, with Natasa Matyasova and Matt Dofoo, Nestlé
  • Consumer-focused Food Safety, with Mitzi Baum, STOP Foodborne Illness
  • TechTalks from Controlant, Veeva and Primority

This year’s event occurs as a Spring program and a Fall program. Haven’t registered? Follow this link to the 2021 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, which provides access to all the episodes featuring critical industry insights from leading subject matter experts! Registration includes access to both the Spring and the Fall events. We look forward to your joining us virtually.